Glasgow & West Scotland

'Rapid' action needed to save marine centre on Cumbrae

University Marine Biological Station Millport
Image caption A decision on the future of the marine station on Millport will be taken at the end of January

A group of Scottish marine academics have demanded "rapid" action to save a research centre on the Isle of Cumbrae.

Forty-two researchers criticised the first minister for saying the University Marine Biological Station Millport was not used by Scottish students.

The Scottish government said it would "continue working hard to explore options" for the site.

A decision on the centre's future is expected at the end of January.

The station, which is located in the Firth of Clyde, has been working with the higher education sector across the UK sector since 1970, and is currently owned by the University of London.

It is a centre for excellence for research into marine fisheries, biodiversity and marine microbiology, and was visited by more than 1,000 students in 2012.

In an open letter to the Scottish government, the academics from six Scottish universities said they were "deeply concerned" that the Millport station was under threat.

The letter said: "We urge academic and political leaders to work towards securing its future as an inspiring centre for marine science in Scotland.

"Many, many thousands of Scottish students have attended and been inspired by the facilities of the station".

"While the station is a unique UK-wide resource, over half the students attending in 2012 were from Scottish institutions."

One of the signatories, Mark Blaxter, professor of evolutionary genomics at the University of Edinburgh, told BBC Scotland: "There's currently a shortfall of a couple of hundred thousand pounds a year. Three weeks is not enough time to save the station.

"As a first step we need transitional funding to keep the centre going for the next three years.

"In the scale of Scottish education funding, it's not that much money."

Scottish Education Secretary Michael Russell said: "I have spoken with the University of London, who have told me that they have not yet taken a final decision but expect to do so later this month.

"I have already spoken to the vice chancellor of the university, as well other significant stakeholders, and am convening a meeting next week with all those involved, including the local MSP Kenneth Gibson."

International dismay

In December, Alex Salmond told First Minister's Questions the centre was "not actually used by any Scottish university at present".

Prof Blaxter said: "I can only assume the first minister was misinformed. His comments were surprising to everyone who uses the station.

"We are aware of many other UK and international colleagues who are also dismayed at the possible loss of the Millport station.

"We've been contacted by colleagues in Finland, Denmark and Germany who are very concerned about the loss of access to the facility."

The education secretary said: "The first minister was referring to the fact that no Scottish University is involved in the ownership or running of the station.

"He also made clear that the Scottish government regards this as an extremely serious situation and that we will explore every possible option to see what can be done. That is why I have convened next week's meeting."

No decision yet

In December, the University of London said no decision had yet been formally taken but the issue of whether to close the station would be discussed at a meeting at the end of January.

It said: "Unless a solution is found in the next few weeks that secures the long term viability of UMBSM (the university's Marine Biological Station at Millport), it is expected that the decision to close it will be taken at the university's board of trustees meeting on 30 January.

"The university will give the maximum possible notice of closure, if that is the decision of the trustees.

"At that point, a timeframe for closure would be agreed. Staff are being informed of all decisions as and when they are made."

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites